therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so
that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
was a sweltering Friday evening in July, the Pennsylvania sky stretching
yellow and red across the forest, screaming for a storm. Even in
the valley the heat hadn't broken all week. Sitting cross-legged
in the grass, sunburned, with mud in our flip-flops and mosquito
bites on our arms, my cabin-mates and I pretended to listen to the
Reverend Andy extolling the various blessings we would each accrue
after inviting Jesus into our young lives. Restless, we ripped patches
of earth from the ground, hurled them at each other and giggled,
nervously anticipating the "Seven-Minutes-in-Heaven" marathon
we had planned for the evening behind cabin number six at exactly
midnight. Cheryl, who slept in the bunk beneath mine and had a reckless
case of premature acne, had a pack of Newports, which she had stolen
from her stepmother's glove compartment during orientation, hidden
inside a sock underneath her bed. Three of my other bunkmates, Cheryl,
and I (perhaps the only ones at camp who loved Bon Jovi more than
Jesus) would later smoke them with the boys, each of us with the
feigned finesse of someone who had smoked cigarettes at least
six times before. Meanwhile, we retained fragments of the impromptu
sermon as best as eleven-year-olds could: free trip to Heaven
Apparently we could sin without abandon for the rest of our lives
and all we had to do was ask God for forgiveness and we were home-free,
guaranteed a one-way ticket to the Promised Land. Well, Hallelujah.
"Children, obey your parents in all things."
Wesley Forest United Methodist Youth Retreat was the first and only
camp I had ever been to, more by circumstance than choice. My parents
weren't so much religious as they were cheap. My father sometimes
sat in the small yellow hallway between the bathroom and the kitchen
with a bowl of Grapenuts in one hand and a stopwatch in the other,
to ensure that our showers didn't exceed eight minutes. While some
children may refuse to eat broccoli or steal change from their mother's
purse in small increments, my older sister and I, in one of our
first acts of rebellion against our father, would take long and
indulgently hot showers when our parents were away. Joyously spiteful,
we basked in our soapy rebellion until the water ran cold, high-fiving
each other as we passed in the hallway. We also ate butter.
family has always spoken the language of "free." The Hills
department store on Route 15 gave away free hot dogs and cherry-flavored
Icees every Saturday, and each week we piled into our baby blue
hatchback, highway bound and hungry. Wednesday mornings at Mister
Donut, every child under twelve got six free donut holes with the
purchase of one very adult coffee. My dad would shell out the sixty-five
cents for his coffee, pinching two donut holes from my sister and
me so that we would all have an even four. It was only fair, he
said, and we went to school satisfied and smiling each Wednesday,
smelling of stale cigarettes and cake.
was a McDonald's in the next town over, and although we were generally
not allowed fast-food of any kind, exceptions were made sometimes
on 39-cent cheeseburger day. I remember riding in the front seat
with my father one afternoon, windows down, cruising for fifteen
minutes alongside the Susquehanna, a Wagner cassette in the tape
deck. "We'll have three 39-cent cheeseburgers and two waters,"
my father shouted into the drive-thru window with a thick Boston
accent and an alarming sense of urgency. "I'm real sorry
Sir, but the cheeseburger special was yesterday," a muffled
voice replied from the speaker. My father thanked her, corrected
her grammar, drove up past the pick-up window and kept going, straight
back to our driveway.
when I found a flier in our mail slot one fateful afternoon in May,
green and black and screaming of summer and ice cream and flame-charred
marshmallows impaled on twigs, I knew it would be an easy sell.
Our church was prepared to fully fund any of its members for one
week at a participating Bible camp, and I had been vigilantly schooled
to never pass up a freebie of this magnitude. "Spend a Week
in the Forest with God," the brochure read, and what kind
of self-respecting rural Pennsylvania parent could say no to their
child's request to spend a week with the Lord in an all-expense-paid-camping-extravaganza?
I could taste the smores already.
"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness."
- John 1:23
days. We felt like savages, alone and wild in a world of cedar and
lemonade; of berries you shouldn't eat and ridiculous songs you
can't stop singing, louder and louder, obnoxious and smiling. Although
we were hovering dangerously over the bottomless chasm of cynicism,
some days we still believed in fantasy, or at least we allowed ourselves
to be talked into believing -- we could still be ceaselessly entertained
playing games like "house," "restaurant,"
or my favorite, "BG," which was code for boyfriend/girlfriend,
a game similar to "house" but much more scandalous
(hence the cunning use of only the first letters,) and which often
amounted, for sheer lack of resources, to GG, in which one G had
to pretend to be the B.
Give me gas in my Ford, keep me truckin'
Give me gas in my Ford I pray,
Give me gas in my Ford keep me truckin'
Keep me truckin' till the break of day.
me oil in my Nova help me witness for Jehovah
Give me oil in my Nova I pray,
Give me oil in my Nova help me witness for Jehovah
Help me witness till the break of day.
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